Four out of five Americans will experience some kind of financial difficulty, from unemployment to relying on government assistance, at some time in their lives. That seems like an amazingly general experience--but because for many people, this is a transient experience (a visit to "broke", as opposed to a prolonged stay), I think people are able to convince themselves that they haven't, you know, been poor. Not like, you know. Them. The Poor. As in: "The poor are always with us"?
Truth be told, it's more like: "The possibility of being poor is always with you, and me." At the ThinkProgress link, blogger Bryce Covert breaks down some of the ways the US is failing to address poverty--part of a painful trend of so-called "fiscal conservatism" has basically shaken down to an almost personal viciousness towards people experiencing need. But that is four out of five of us. This isn't a country composed of 80% lazy bastards. This is a country of increasing income inequality, where people can work (longer and harder than some of the 1%-ers) and are still too poor to afford rent, to keep the lights on, or even feed themselves.
That's why when I hear that smug fake-Christian sentiment springing from mouths like Michele Bachmann's, for example, saying "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat", I wonder if that person saying it ever considered whether "will not work" ever meant "will not work for a wage too low to feed themselves or their family". (But since she, like several other Republicans, has espoused the idea that there should be no minimum wage--no. Leaving possibility that some will work, and neither shall they eat, either.) And when I see that people who endorse such specifically insulting policies like drug-testing people who go on assistance get some support from people who are in that four out of five group--it strikes me that part of the on-going class war isn't just the elites shafting the broke. It's a war between people who know what limited resources are and have been conditioned to battle each other over the scraps. Which is why think tanks and major newspaper opinion pages are full of people who can, without flinching, suggest that, say, a political party might hold up a vote on unemployment benefits to gain a concession on taking money out of pensioners' pockets.
On some level, for the well-sinecured hams that dribble internecine class war gravy wherever they opine, suggesting that providing food programs for poor kids and giving some families health care too, only takes tax money! Away! From the job-creators! Must really be done, just a little bit, for sport. To raise up our fears that next time, maybe that "rich government entitlement" someone else gets, will take something from us.
It's a bum fight. Where 80% of us are bums. (And the honest truth is, no, it shouldn't be the government who provides for all our asses at all, at all. Why has this conversation so often excluded the very folks that should be, allegedly, creating the jobs and paying the people who fill them enough to live?) We should be clever enough to realize it, proud enough to resent it, pissed enough to sort out how to end it.